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  • Despite Stellar Design, Yahoo Screen Was a Victim of Incoherent Content Strategy

    Yesterday, Variety broke the news that Yahoo has shut down its Yahoo Screen video site/app, dispersing its content throughout the broader Yahoo site. Yahoo Screen was a marquee initiative of company CEO Marissa Mayer, so its demise surely signals the end of Yahoo’s video ambitions. Despite Yahoo Screen’s stellar mobile design, it ultimately fell victim to a completely incoherent content strategy. Yahoo Screen’s failure provides lots of lessons for other video providers scrambling these days to find their place in an increasingly noisy landscape.

    The principal problem with Yahoo’s video strategy was that it had a checklist approach - trying to be a little bit of everything, without putting enough focus/resources on anything. Consider: short-form comedy (check - SNL clips), branded news (check - ABC News stories), personality-driven content (check - Katie Couric and David Pogue), lifestyle content (check - Conde Nast clips), long-form licensed entertainment (check - “Community” and others), sports (check - livestream NFL game from London), independent video (check - float a plan to poach YouTube stars or acquire Dailymotion) and original TV shows (check - try to develop half-hour comedies). About the only thing Yahoo didn’t pursue was introducing an SVOD service, like everyone else is doing these days.

    Yahoo spent countless tens of millions of dollars dabbling in every conceivable video genre without ever putting a stake deep in the ground in any one area. The lack of focus meant a hazy consumer value proposition about what Yahoo’s video should be known for and why time-starved viewers should pay attention. That in turn led to a decline in viewership to 15 million in November, 2015 according to comScore, and tepid advertiser response (the $42 million “Community” write down and the slashing of ad rates to sell the NFL livestream).

    Given the uncertainty surrounding Yahoo’s own fate, it’s hardly surprising that Yahoo Screen got the ax. Further, the video landscape is more crowded than ever, with more scripted original programs being created than ever, not to mention the abundance of content options from everyone from Facebook to YouTube to Snapchat, etc. competing for share of viewing time.

    Breaking through in this environment requires discipline and focus, combined with significant financial commitment. There are many examples of how to do this right. Netflix’s success in long-form originals (and more recently Amazon’s) are at the top of the list. So is food and travel focused Tastemade, which raised another $40 million last month. Yet another is NowThis, the social video news site which raised another $16.2 million last month.

    The common theme from these examples is that choosing and then staying focused on a genre/format, upon which a brand position can be built, are the critical ingredients to video success. Unfortunately, Yahoo Screen didn’t do any of these, though it did have a really nice user experience. As Yahoo has learned, that’s necessary, but not sufficient, for ultimate success.

     
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